Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Barclays in the frame - and not just their senior management

Most of you will have seen an article like this in the last day or so:

 But that's not the only way a business like Barclays is judged. What do their customers think? Let's look...



Our conclusion

It is not so much the reviews and scores that reflect badly on the business (although they do) but the fact that Barclays have obviously turned a blind eye to the negative impression they have allowed to be created on the web by a tiny minority of their customers (who may, or may not, be representative).

What have they not done?
  • they have not had the common courtesy to respond to their customers who have taken the time to write a review - positive or negative
  • they patently have no review management strategy in place - either corporately or at local branch level

What should they have done (and should now do)?
  • establish a proactive review management strategy - to engage all their customers -  at corporate level
  • implement that strategy across their branch network 
  • and reply to every review

It's not complicated, expensive or time-consuming. It is simply a question of asking itself: "Do we care about our customers and, just as importantly, do we want to be seen to care?"

We're here to help.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

TripAdvisor gets a negative review...

 We think this article in Barrons - and the research it reports, is missing the bigger picture

Credit Suisse have downgraded their target price for TripAdvisor stock to nearly 10% below its already depressed level. This judgement is based on what Credit Suisse see as a need for TripAdvisor to increase its advertising spend to remain competitive. 

TripAdvisor - a sorry story for investors; but also a strong message for the hospitality industry

But we think there is a bigger picture - and it's called Google... 

Google is becoming the dominant player in hospitality search 

Just search for a hotel or restaurant - what do you see? Let's do just that (we will take two landmark properties - but perform the search for you own, it will be the same)...

First on desktop:


What do we see here? We see one of the main reasons for the inexorable slide in TripAdvisor's share price: over 40% of this search given over to Google's own knowledge panel


In a different format, but what potential diner needs TripAdvisor's 4,600 reviews when they can access over 400 from Google at a click?

Then on mobile:


More and more purchasing decisions are being made by referencing the headline score and the the three rich snippets - those aspects that the hotel can most easily ensure provide an accurate reflection of their offering


This is the most modern format: with the reviews tab prominently displayed. We expect most Google search formats to conform to this format over time

Our advice

There's no need to radically alter strategies, but be aware that Google - and Google's own reviews - are an increasing influence on consumers' booking habits. You should be aiming for a score of 4.5 plus (the point at which consumers cease to hesitate) and it is a rare property that will be able to consistently achieve this without professional review management.

If in any doubt at all, consult us.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Two of the South-east's premier estate agents go live with HelpHound

Curchods and their sister business Burns & Webber have chosen HelpHound as their review managers.

Both businesses are very well-regarded by both their peers and their clients, now that regard will be transmitted to all across both their websites and in search.

Here's a Curchods branch...

...and already on its way with Google...

And here is one of Burns & Webber's...

Both have adopted our new API - enabling their marketing departments and web designers to tailor the display to their specific requirements.

Over the next weeks and months expect all their twenty-one branches to begin to make a significant impact, both in terms of reviews on their own sites and Google reviews, following in the footsteps of another API adopter: Winkworth...

...on their own site....

...and on Google...

 When this business joined they had two reviews on Google - one 1* and one 3* - that in no way reflected the professionalism of their management or their staff. See the difference professional review management - in tandem with a positive attitude from the business - has made: they now have 41 Google reviews (and a score of 4.8) as well as over 120 reviews on their own website.

Watch this space!

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Google ramps up review visibility - again!

Just when we thought Google could not make reviews more visible - they do it again! Both kinds too - yours and theirs.

Let's take the mobile journey (estimates vary, but most agree that about 70% of all search is on mobile or tablet now):

Initial search: [business name + location]:

This gives the potential customer many options: map, address, opening hours etc. but we will stay with reviews for now. First there is the rating (numerical - 4.8 in this example) and stars (five) as well as the number of reviews - a click there takes the user straight to the business's Google reviews (see the third of the four screengrabs). 

Underneath that is 'Reviews from the web' - again showing a score and number of reviews, but this time taken from the business's own reviews hosted on their own site. 

In addition you can see two links to the business's website - centre right of the Google knowledge panel and right at the bottom - top of natural listings (as you might expect). Clicking on both of these will lead to reviews prominently displayed on the business's mobile site.

But perhaps most important of all - the change that Google has made - the 'Reviews' tab at the top - taking your potential customers direct to your reviews - again, both your own and Google's - without having to hit the arrow in the blue circle at the bottom of the knowledge panel:

There are three important routes to reviews here:

1. The three rich snippets - the first opinions a potential customer will see. They - as long as they are positive - should whet the customer's appetite for more. They then have a choice... 

2. Read some of the 129 reviews - highlighted under 'Reviews from the web' - a click on which takes them straight to your website and the reviews you host there...

Three things here: a scrolling feed of verified reviews, a link to enable anyone to read all the business's reviews and a link to an explanation of HelpHound's role in the process.

3. Read your Google reviews by simply scrolling down:

And guess which tab in the drop-down menu most consumers choose? That is why it is so important to have a mechanism like Resolution™ that enables you to address inaccurate or misleading reviews pre-publication.

Don't miss the overall message!

Google has not made this change on a whim: by devoting more and more of the search experience to reviews Google is telling businesses that your potential customers want to read reviews. 


It is slightly off-topic for this article, but we know many of you will be asking 'how does the business look in a generic search [business type + location]?'...

Answer? Top of the Google three-pack and top of organic search.


Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Mobile search - the review sites are all but invisible

It was tempting to apologise for yet another article highlighting why we don't recommend independent review sites - but when we think of the time, effort and pure cash that so many businesses are wasting because they have adopted a solution that is, at best, second best and, at worst, simply does not deliver the results they have been led to expect, we decided to go ahead anyway - if we save just one of you from harm, then this post will have been justified.

Over 60% of searches on the web are now conducted on mobiles. That is a global figure. In markets such as the UK, where over 8 out of 10 devices are smartphones and a very high percentage of those are on contract rather than PAYG - meaning that there is no incentive for users to defer mobile searches to desktop - it is more than likely that the figure will be in excess of 70%.

So we - and you - should be looking at how users search on mobile and adapting our review management accordingly.

There are two main searches we should all be concerned with. let's follow those journeys (we'll use an estate agent as an example)...

A general search: 'business type [location]' - estate agent [Kennington]...

The search throws up:


N.B. See the 'Top rated' button alongside 'MORE FILTERS' at the top - any business that scores less than 4.0 out of 5 will increasingly find itself filtered out of search entirely. For more on the Google filter read this.

  • advertisements - which any business can buy, limited only by the depth of its pockets
  • the Google 'three-pack' which is currently a SEO-based selection of three local businesses - led, currently, by Winkworth Kennington
  • natural listings - our client can also be seen, along with their HelpHound review score - 'Rating' 4.7 (128) - at the head of these

A specific search: 'business name [location]'  - Winkworth [Kennington]...

The search shows:

  • the business's Google review score and number of reviews and two tabs - 'Overview' and 'Reviews'

  • the business's Google knowledge panel - with its own reviews and score under 'Reviews from the web' (4.7 out of 5 and 128 reviews in this example) its Google review score (4.8), and the number of reviews (40), prominently displayed along with three rich snippets (all positive in this case).

We are now going to make an assumption: that any consumer who would like to read reviews will click on either the Google reviews or the 'Reviews from the web'; after all, if you are looking for a large and credible brand to give you comfort then we reckon Google - which everyone relies on for search results day-in day-out - is just about as large and credible as they come.

Then your potential customer sees this (for Google):

 N.B. Most people will immediately select 'Lowest score' - that is why it is so important that business's understand that they cannot simply sit back an be passive where reviews are concerned - they have to engage, otherwise unhappy customers will post reviews - and those reviews will be read

And this (for the business's own reviews):

Winkworth use our API to custom-display their customers' reviews and feed their score and link to Google to display under 'Reviews from the web'.

We hope this shows you just how relatively important your own reviews and Google reviews are compared to those from other sources - especially on mobile. Even for the rarely used search term 'Winkworth Kennington reviews' a mobile search now shows this:

 'Reviews from the web' - again, the business's own reviews gathered using HelpHound software

As opposed to this on desktop:

One independent site - allAgents - gets shown in this search, albeit with Google reviews - in the Knowledge Panel - and the business's own reviews, star rating, score and number of reviews (right under their organic listing) taking precedence.

Your reasurrance

As review managers HelpHound's duty is to you - our clients - first, last and always. There were times in the past when we recommended independent review sites and there may well be again at some future date; if and when that is the case you can be sure to read about it here.


Friday, 2 June 2017

Negative reviews - is there any remedy?

This is a question that comes up daily, in fact about half of our inbound calls are prompted by it. Negative reviews of businesses hurt - some more than others. Let us explain...

Businesses on the web break down into three main categories:
  1. Businesses with established reviews presences - hundreds of reviews on Google and other sites - Yelp, TripAdvisor, Trustpilot etc.
  2. Businesses with few reviews on the web - anywhere
  3. Businesses with no reviews at all
Let's look at examples of all three...

1. The 'established' business

2. The business with 'few reviews'

3. The business with 'no reviews' 

Yes - we know that Noble Caledonia have 26 reviews - now. But six months ago they had none. Bear with us (see below).

The point is that all businesses are vulnerable to negative reviews - let's see just how vulnerable:

The Ritz

Just a few months ago the Ritz had a hard-won score of 4.6 on Google - showing in every search. Then they threatened to sue the Ritz Ballroom in Brighouse and some of the Yorkshire locals took to Google to express their discontent - by writing one-star reviews.

The Ritz is possibly one of the very few hotels in London that has built a reputation strong enough to cope with a drop in their score to 4.2; most other hotels, finding themselves in anything like that position would have been forced to cut rate to maintain occupancy. That's how sensitive to review scores the market is.


Last year the Nearwater bed and breakfast in St Mawes received a single one-star review - driving its Google score down from a near-perfect 4.9 to a marginally less impressive 4.7. But worse was to come - because they had few reviews in total that one star stood out like a sore thumb, and bookings dried right up.

A demonstrably malicious review - but it remained on Google until HelpHound intervened (it is actually a review of a TV programme, the reviewer has no personal knowledge of the business whatsoever)

The review had been written by someone who had never stayed, but had seen the Nearwater featured on Channel 4s 'Four in a Bed'. The owner tried everything - contacting Google in the UK and in India - before HelpHound saw the article in the newspapers and volunteered our services. The full story - and its happy ending - is here.

Noble Caledonia

No reviews at all a year ago, a single negative complaining about a wrong phone number eight months ago  - and then one of their cruise ships hits a reef in Indonesia. Result? Twenty four one star reviews. - and a very off-putting score on Google. An example of a business that had not engaged with reviews and will now be rapidly evaluating what is the best proactive policy to pursue.

  The business on the left is one disgruntled customer away from a score of 1.0 like the business on the right

  • all businesses need a proactive review management policy
  • those with many reviews are still vulnerable
  • those with few reviews are far more vulnerable
  • those with no reviews are the most vulnerable of all

The point?

All three of these businesses are - in a sense - lucky, they have so obviously been the victim of a category of review that Google generally find it pretty easy to delete. If they are approached in the correct manner (more on that later).

But there are more categories of reviews - equally harmful - that are not nearly so clear-cut, at least not from Google's point-of-view...
  • the [clever*] disgruntled ex-member of staff
  • the [clever*] competitor
  • the non-customer with an axe to grind
  • the 'friend/relation' of a dissatisfied customer
  • the misleading review
  • the factually inaccurate review
 *'clever' means someone who covers up their real relationship with the business, usually masquerading - and writing their review -  as a bona-fide customer

The legal position

Any criticism of a business is, under UK law, prima facie, libellous. That means that any business could, in theory, challenge any negative review, its author (the reviewer) and its publisher (the website).

But would it? 'Business bullies customer' is never a great headline, so any business is going to think long and hard before resorting to legal action, and will rightly examine all the alternatives. And sites like Google are going to stand foursquare behind negative reviews - and their reviewers - that they believe to be written with sincere motives.

But there are avenues to follow

Google don't make it easy (you would not expect them to). But if the review that is harming your business has been written with impure motives or with pure motive but in ignorance of pertinent facts - or, importantly, is in contravention of Google's review policies - a properly constructed appeal to Google does have a good chance of success.

HelpHound and appeals

We have been constructing appeals for our clients for nearly four years now. From today we will be offering this appeals service to every business, whether it be a HelpHound client on not. 

 A draft appeal - accuracy and know-how are essential if any degree of success is to be achieved

We will not advise you to tilt at windmills; we will assess every case on its own merits and advise you before any agreement is made. After that we will draft your appeal and forward it to you will detailed step-by-step instructions on how to submit it.


Our standard fee for clients is £150 per appeal. For non-clients our standard Terms of Engagement will apply.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Three reasons to avoid independent review sites

You cannot go anywhere these days without encountering businesses that have signed up to independent review sites. The positive is that businesses are finally waking up to the power of reviews - the negative is that some businesses are being 'sold' review solutions that benefit the review site more than their client.

At HelpHound we have consistently said that 'there is a better way' and those of you who are clients or are regular readers of this blog will know that; but we make no apology for restating the case - and seriously questioning whether any business should commit to an independent review site. 

Why? Read on...

1. You need to own your own reviews - and get them to Google

They are written by your customers about your products and services - so why would you want to give them to someone else? We have seen so many examples of businesses adopting one reviews solution, committing - wasting - time and effort, and then realising that there is a better alternative out there.

 This is a good example of professional review management - with HelpHound and the business working effectively together. the business has over 100 reviews on its own site which are linked to by Google in the knowledge panel ("Reviews from the web") and displayed under its listing in natural search (top left). On top of that over 40 of those reviews have been got to Google, giving the business a great score there too, as well as three great rich snippets (at the bottom of the knowledge panel).

You need your reviews on your own website - and then - almost always, to get them to Google*

*and then Facebook, and just one or two specialists sites (like TripAdvisor if you are in the hospitality business).

2. You need to obey the law - be compliant

So many review sites are not compliant with UK law; either they don't allow anyone to post a review or they only allow someone to post a review at a given time (usually immediately post-purchase). This is against the law - and the onus is on the business to comply. For more detail read this article.

3. Perhaps most important of all - you don't want to be forcing your unhappy customers to post to Google 

Look at this example of a business that decided to commit to an independent review site a year ago:

The independent site in question scores the business 4.5 out of 5, so far so good...

And now look at it on Google:

 A dreadful score - when combined with the negative text of the six one star reviews - gives a terrible first impression of the business (Google reviews are always seen first). We would love to show you the individual reviews, but that would be unfair on the business in question; you will just have to trust us that they wouldn't encourage anyone to use it!

So what has happened? 

Something we see more and more; the business invites its happy customers to post a review to the independent site - leading to a great score (it's not a 'perfect five' simply because the business cannot possibly identify 'happy' customers 100% of the time).

The business's unhappy customers have either not been invited to write a review or they have decided to write it to Google instead - not all of them, but enough to create this negative score and impression.

What should the business have done?

It should have focussed on on its own site and on Google. Here is an example from our latest presentation:

In search...

...and on the business's own site:

 For the full presentation see here

This ticks all three boxes:
  • the business owns its own reviews and has got them to google in significant numbers
  • its procedures and systems are complaint with the CMA's regulations
  • it looks impressive - both in search and on its own site

What more could any business possibly want?

Friday, 19 May 2017

Google Lens turns your phone's camera into a reviews feed

One day soon you will be simply able to point your camera at a business and see this:

 And whose reviews do you suppose? Google's of course! And by the way, your business - unlike the one in the image Google have used above - had better score north of 4.5 if it seriously wants to attract business

Think of the implications:
  • for potential customers - no fumbling in search, just point and press
  • for those attending meetings or pitches - just aim at the office and by the time the lift doors open you'll know what the business's customers think of it
But most of all - it is yet another validation of reviews - as Google are quoted as saying in today's Times:

"Users will be able to photograph... shops and restaurants* to find reviews" - yes, reviews, not Instagram or Twitter feeds or Facebook pages. If that is not sending businesses a very strong message to engage with reviews nothing is.

*Be sure they won't stop at shops and restaurants, any business listed on Google is bound to be included.

Google have not announced a launch date - so watch this space. For more read this article on TechCrunch or you can watch the official Google IO7 keynote video on Youtube (we've already watched it for you).

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Another business pushes back against a review site's alleged sales tactics

This month it's the turn of Happy Fish Sushi. According to the Peoria Journal and Star (we're sure you all read that!?) they allege that Yelp has been bombarding this business with sales calls and the business itself alleges that their Yelp rating dropped - inferring that Yelp were filtering out positive reviews.

Yelp - the largest single general reviews site on the planet - pulled its sales operation out of the UK and Europe at the end of last year. This decision may not have been entirely unrelated to the Competition and Markets Authority's (CMA) involvement in the regulation of the UK reviews market. 

Yelp's business model is based on selling advertising on non-paying business's listings. Fair? We'll leave you to decide.

In desperation - we assume - this business has decided to reward customers for writing one-star reviews!

But seriously: it is difficult for a reviews site to comply with the spirit, let alone the letter, of the CMA regulations - which have the force of law. Most reviews sites in the UK rely on Google partnering for much of their revenue - which in turn relies on the client business being willing to tie themselves to long-term pay-per-click strategies in order to see their review scores appear in search - scores that, with effective review management would appear next to the business's natural listing - and in the knowledge panel, for free.

 Winkworth's reviews - not HelpHound's, but verified by HelpHound (see below):

Note the 'write a review' button - anyone can write a review at any time - no wonder potential clients give their reviews credence.

Sales tactics

We hear first-hand reports of review sites employing boiler-house techniques - multiple calls by different staff, often in the same day, is just one example, 'free trial' periods (during which the business will be innocently generating revenue for the review site) is another. Often the offering is non-compliant in some way (check it against the six criteria here). 


We consider that it is well-nigh impossible for a commercial review site to comply with the current CMA regulations and make money at the same time - the conflict of interest is just too great. It is possible - although we hasten to add that we have no evidence - that Yelp's decision to quit the UK was influenced by legal advice; after all their business model rests on being able to up-sell advertising above its natural listings as in the screenshot above, something that the CMA might not entirely happy about.

Businesses must realise that there is no 'magic bullet' where reviews are concerned, that whatever solution they adopt must not mislead consumers and must be truly open and accessible to all. 

The only solution - fortunately for well-managed businesses with a strict consumer focus - is proper professional review management; compliant with the regulations and effective for the business and consumer alike.

Further reading:
  1. The CMA's criteria for business reviews - the rules you must obey
  2. Review sites - the unintended consequences - driving negative reviews to Google
  3. Reviews solutions must be credible (and legal) - a checklist for your business
  4. Professional review management v. review sites - a look at actual out-turns


Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Your reviews solution must be credible (and legal)

Note: this article, by the very nature of its subject, makes frequent reference to the law and rules governing reviews in the UK - the Competition and Markets Authority regulations. If you would like to spend five minutes bringing yourself up-to-date with these there is a guide here.

Regular readers will know that we have issues with many of the reviews solutions currently being promoted to businesses. They usually come under one or more of the following headings:
  • They favour the business over the consumer
  • They favour the consumer over the business
  • They don't moderate their reviews
  • They allow businesses to filter reviews
  • The enable businesses to look better than they are in reality
  • They make businesses look worse than they are in reality 

None of the above are helpful - in either the short or long run, for the business or the consumer. Importantly - all but two are downright illegal (although frequently seen). Let's look at each 'category' in more detail.

  • Favouring the business
When businesses first approach the subject of reviews they ask one question more than any other: 'Can we control the reviews that are shown?' and for very good reasons. The larger review sites - and for this purpose we include Google and TripAdvisor as well as pure review sites like Yelp - are notorious, rightly or wrongly, for allowing negative (and even fake) reviews to go unchallenged. And most businesses now understand that even a single well-crafted negative can do untold harm. But sites that allow businesses to challenge any negative review are breaking the rules. Only by adopting really effective review management can a business protect its reputation and comply with the CMA rules.

  • Favouring the consumer 
Many sites favour the consumer by adopting a policy of 'the reviewer is always right unless the business can provide incontrovertible proof that what they have said is factually incorrect/libelous and or written with impure motives (they are a competitor or a disgruntled ex-member of staff, for instance). This policy at the main sites - Google and Yelp - has driven many businesses into the arms of sites that are more 'generous' to the business - they will allow the business to appeal a wide range of reviews. At first sight this looks attractive for businesses, that is: until they understand that almost all of these so-called solutions break the rules and therefore the law.

  • Un-moderated reviews
You will almost certainly be aware of the recent controversy around Google and YouTube and Facebook allowing un-moderated content - ISIS propaganda and so on - onto their sites. The same applies to reviews. Moderation - for the uninitiated - is the act of checking a review for its source and content. It is an inexact science - if someone wants to fake a review badly enough they will find a way on most sites (not with a negative through HelpHound though - and we have a two strikes rule if a client is caught writing a positive) they mostly will be able to. We see examples of this daily.If your reviews system gains a reputation for hosting irrelevant reviews of any kind - and Yelp and TripAdvsor have both admitted to doing so - that will impact on the credibility of your reviews.

  • Allowing filtering
Not a day passes when we don't see another example of a review site and a business doing this. The business has subscribed to the review site and the review site then allows the business to selectively display reviews on their site (as you can imagine, these reviews invariably score the business 5 out of 5). They are both breaking the law. Another version is the business that selectively copies reviews from another site - we have seen examples of this with Google and many others - onto their own site; again: the business is breaking the law. Another variant is the business that takes the score from a well-known site and displays it, but attributes a higher score - believe it or not, it does happen, and we have an archive of screenshots to prove it!

  • Making businesses look better than they are
We've already seen examples of this under 'Allowing filtering' above. Any mechanism that allows the business to prevent unhappy customers from writing a review is breaking the rules. We hear businesses every day saying 'But I know Mrs B will give us one out of five.' The only answer to that which will wash with the CMA is one that allows all of your customers to write a review at a time of their own choosing. Mrs B has to be able to write a review, whenever she wants.

  • Making businesses look worse 
Interestingly all review sites - Google included - by definition make businesses look worse than they are in reality. That is because unhappy customers are statistically far more likely to write a review online. Studies by both Cornell University and Harvard Business School have confirmed that - and the figures they have produced indicate that this impact is around a factor of fifteen times. To put this in plain English - if you see a business with 100 reviews and ten are negative less than one per cent of that business's customers are, in reality, dissatisfied. It is just that the unhappy ones have taken the trouble to write a review. Just look up any hotel you know and love and you will see this theory in practice.

So - a quick checklist for any system you are considering:
  1. Does it in any way favour the business?
  2. Does it allow you - the business - to choose which reviews are displayed?
  3. Does it give an unfairly favourable impression of your business?
  4. Does it allow you - the business - to select who you invite to write a review?
  5. Does the reviewer have to wait to be invited to write a review?
  6. Is the reviewer prevented from writing a review except by invitation from the business?

If the answer is 'Yes' to even a single one of these questions the system is in contravention of the CMA rules - and the onus for compliance is on you - the business - not on the provider of the reviews system.

The good news is that there is another way - the HelpHound way - adopt professional review management - now.  

Thursday, 4 May 2017

All the reasons you need to adopt HelpHound

Here is our latest presentation (click to enlarge the individual slides) - showing our API in action - with added notes...

'Professional Review Management' - as with any professional adviser, it should be a lifetime relationship, capable of moving with the times and adapting to change

Harness the power of customer opinion and then get it displayed everywhere in search... well as on your own website and in all your other marketing - Pos, print, email, web

It's these that drive enquiries and business. They do get read by potential customers.

This slide contains all the 'boring but important' things you need to know.
  • Own your own reviews - don't give them to another site
  • Resolution™ is an important safety feature - for you and your customers; it ensures that inaccurate or misleading reviews don't get posted. Read more about it here.
  • Our clients tell us: Google drives visits to your website, your website drives business
  • Don't use a system that breaks the law (we are amazed how many do). The onus is on you to comply - more on this here
  • You will welcome our support - the world of reviews is constantly evolving and we'll make sure you and your staff are always up-to-date
  • You - and your web designers - can make our system look exactly how you want

For more client comments see here.

For live examples see:

Now speak to Fiona or Karen on 0207 100-2233 and they will answer any other questions you may have.